BBA 2022 Winner Profile: UK–Japan Partnership – BT & Toshiba

Written by Sterling Content
December 2, 2022


Written by Sterling Content
December 2, 2022

Some 20 years ago, BT Group and Toshiba Group embarked on collaborative research to pioneer a solution that mitigates the threat to data security posed by quantum computers. Now, in 2022, the successful alliance has delivered a world-first commercial trial of a quantum-secured metro network, resulting in a British Business Award (BBA) in the category of UK–Japan Partnership.

The UK’s leading provider of fixed and mobile telecommunications and the Japanese digital technology firm received the prestigious accolade at the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan’s headline event in the Conrad Tokyo on November 2. They were recognised for making “demonstrable contributions to the enhancement of UK–Japan economic relations in the past 12 months.”


Strong partnership

Building on their commitment in October 2021 to create a trial quantum-secured network, BT and Toshiba launched the network in April 2022. On its own, this development is considered a massive step forwards in the UK’s quantum journey, and what the companies learn from the trial will be vital in developing quantum-secure networks and services in the future.

According to Jane Thomas, communications manager, BT, the companies’ partnership is “built on years of working together that has resulted in implicit trust and shared objectives for each other’s mutual benefit.” Matt McDowell, head of communications, Toshiba Europe, agrees, noting the companies have overcome the challenges faced by an international partnership, such as different work approaches and time zones, to create a successful collaboration.

McDowell of Toshiba said the “credibility of having the official recognition [of a BBA] will help promote the business and technology to a wider market.” BT’s Thomas added that the BBA validation is “testament to the strength and effectiveness of the companies’ partnership”.

People in both companies have been delighted and proud to receive this prestigious award, recognising what can be achieved when large Japanese and British companies work in close collaboration to realise a common goal.


Quantum-secured metro network

The partnership’s commercial quantum-secured metro network trial links sites in London’s West End, City and M4 Corridor areas and provides trial data services secured using Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) and Post-Quantum Cryptography (PQC).

The infrastructure is able to connect numerous customers across London, helping them to test the secure transmission of valuable data and information. The QKD-based network secures data and information between multiple physical locations over standard fibre optic links, thereby protecting networks and data against the emerging threat of cyber-attack using quantum computing.

BT operates the network, providing a range of quantum-secured services including dedicated high bandwidth end-to-end encrypted links, delivered over Openreach’s private fibre networks. Toshiba provides QKD hardware and key management software. In the network, QKD keys are combined with in-built ethernet security, based on public-key-based encryption, which enables the resultant keys to be used to encrypt the data.

Reflecting on the creation of the unique network, Howard Watson, chief security and networks officer, BT, said it has been “an incredible challenge,” and expressed pride “that BT and Toshiba have successfully united to deliver” it.

“Quantum-enabled technologies are expected to have a profound impact on how society and business operates in the future, but they are remarkably complex to understand, develop and build—in particular, ensuring that the end-to-end service designs meet the stringent security requirements of the market,” he added.

The strong and long-standing partnership between the two firms has been key to the achievement, according to Shunsuke Okada, corporate senior vice president and chief digital officer, Toshiba.

He noted: “Both Toshiba and BT have demonstrated world-class technology development and leadership through decades of innovation and operation. Combining BT’s leadership in networks technologies and Toshiba’s leadership in quantum technologies has brought this network to life.”

In April 2022, EY became the network’s first commercial customer when it began using the network to connect two of its sites in London: one in Canary Wharf and one in New London Bridge.

Speaking at the time, Praveen Shankar, the professional services firm’s UK & Ireland managing partner for technology, media and telecoms, commented: “Quantum-secure data transmission represents the next major leap forward in protecting data, an essential component doing business in a digital economy. Our work with two of the world’s leading technology innovators will allow us to demonstrate the power of quantum to both EY and our clients.”


Next steps

According to Andrew Lord, senior manager, optical networks research, BT, the customer reaction to the launch has been extremely positive, prompting BT to think about how to develop commercial relationships in quantum services with customers.

And until a business plan is decided, the work BT and Toshiba are doing in London will help provide a better understanding of what customers want, said Andrew Shields, general manager, Quantum Technology Division, Toshiba Europe.

Lord predicts that some of the early adopters of the technology are likely to be large corporations in all sectors, from finance, health and professional services to oil, mining and gas. 

Both companies agree that a vision for the future would be the creation of a national quantum network, and further down the line, a global quantum network.